Article Summary #2: Relation Between Adaptive Function and IQ

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This Article Summary is part of our new CanFASD Connect series: Top Articles Summary Series. Over the next several months, we will be bringing you summaries of all the recent research papers from our list of the Top FASD Articles of 2019. This is a summary of a recent research paper called Relation between adaptive function and IQ among youth with histories of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure. You can find the full list and an annotated bibliography of the studies on our website at


Researchers have shown that children with FASD experience challenges in a number of  neurobehavioural domains, including general intellectual functioning and adaptive function.  General intellectual functioning is “one’s global ability to act purposefully and interact with the environment in a meaningful way,” and includes cognitive abilities like verbal, nonverbal, and perceptual reasoning. Adaptive function refers to one’s ability to successfully function in everyday life and includes abilities like communication, socialization, and daily living.

Impairments in these areas can significantly impact an individual’s capacity to successfully live independently. As well, these challenges can impact the lives of their caregivers. By investigating the relationship between general intellectual functioning and adaptive functioning, researchers are better able to understand adaptive function across the spectrum and suggest effective interventions and treatment plans to improve success for individuals with PAE and/or FASD.

The authors of the current study collected data from 437 participants to investigate: (1) the relationship between general intellectual functioning and adaptive function among youth with PAE; and (2) to determine if the relationship between adaptive function and intellectual functioning differs between lower and higher functioning individuals.

Main Findings

The relationship between adaptive function and IQ differs between individuals with PAE and without PAE.

  • Generally, higher intellectual functioning was more strongly associated with higher adaptive functioning in youth without PAE, compared to youth with PAE.
  • The relationship between IQ and adaptive function in youth with PAE appears to be driven by communication abilities.
  • Low IQ scores are not an indicator of issues in adaptive functioning in youth with heavy PAE. In fact, higher functioning individuals with FASD experience greater challenges with communication skills.

There are consistent challenges in adaptive functioning in individuals with PAE across all levels of IQ. This finding suggests that adaptive functioning is independent of overall ability level. 

  • Challenges in adaptive function, specifically communication, are likely because of a number of factors.  
  • The relationship between challenges with daily living and IQ did not differ between groups, suggesting that IQ impacts daily living skills.

The differential relationship between IQ and adaptive function appears to be driven by communication abilities within the alcohol exposed group. Interventions targeting communication abilities may help to alleviate some of the functional challenges that individuals with PAE experience.


  • Further education is needed investigating the factors contributing to adaptive function deficits for youth with PAE.
  • Further investigation is also needed to clarify the cause of functional deficits and suggest targets for clinical intervention.
  • Further research is needed to examine additional cognitive contributors to adaptive function deficits within individuals with PAE.

Take home message
Impaired adaptive function and communication abilities may prevent individuals with PAE from successfully functioning independently and may impact them academically, socially, and occupationally. The authors of this study suggest that adaptive function and IQ are not as strongly related in youth with PAE as compared to youth without PAE; the differences observed were primarily because of communication skills. Identifying cognitive factors that may influence adaptive function can help identify effective interventions and assist with treatment planning for individuals with PAE.

Authors: Lauren R. Doyle, Claire D. Coles, Julie A. Kable Philip A. May, Elizabeth R. Sowell, Kenneth L. Jones, Edward P. Riley, Sarah N. Mattson, the CIFASD

Journal: Birth Defects Research

Date: 8 January 2019

Read the full article (not available open access).

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